Saturday, June 07, 2008

Writer and Author

I'm correcting a German-English translation for an exam, and the German word Schriftsteller appears in it. My sense is that this corresponds to "writer," and that there is a difference between "writer" and "author," even though the two terms can refer to the same person.

I would articulate this difference as follows: a writer is someone who writes books (as a profession?), but an author is someone who has written one particular book, or a set of books. So one would say "Jane Smith is a writer," but one would say "Jane Smith is the author of Title of Her Book," or "Jane Smith is the author of four books."

Comments welcome on this distinction, of course!


SarahJane said...

If you're published, you're an author. It's not that your writing isn't at the same time "authoring," but publication, in english, gives you the distinction of being an author, whether it's one book or many. In German what do you call a writer who hasn't been published? I must admit I think of Schriftsteller more as the equivalent to "author."
In English, too, an author can also be a poet, as Louise Glück is "a poet and the author of Wild Iris." But is German I've never heard of a poet referred to as a Schriftsteller.

Andrew Shields said...

In considering the issue further, I came to the conclusion that there is definitely one context in which the hair I am splitting here is rather thick, as it were: when asked what they do (with the implication being "what do you do for a living?"), people who make their living writing books respond, "I am a writer" (and not "I am an author"). At least in that sense, then, I think my emphasis on "writer" as a "profession" is correct.

Anonymous said...

I agree Andrew: If you refer to the profession 'Schriftsteller' is the correct term. Writers' organizations are typically called 'Schriftstellerverband'.